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Faroe Islands - Culture

Faroe Islands Culture

The Faroes have a proud cultural heritage, although Faroese was long regarded as a peasant language and the written form was not standardised until the 1890s. Life was hard, and after the chores were done there was not a lot of time left to write novels or paint portraits. The earliest Faroese music would be considered bland by modern standards, but it was designed to accompany the Faroese chain dance and the kvæði, a body of late medieval ballads. There are thousands of verses to these ballads and the chain dance requires knowledge of these verses to be properly performed. There were no instruments on the islands, and simple and repetitive melodies were commonly sung in a minor key. Today, traditional dancing is on the school curriculum and also takes place during the winter dancing season and on festive occasions to celebrate the islanders' unique identity. The chain dance was once popular all over Scandinavia, but has survived intact only in the Faroes.

During the long and cold winter nights, people occupied themselves by reciting stories and poetry that had been passed down orally for generations. They were finally collected and written down in the 19th century. The first modern Faroese poet, Nólsoyar-Poul Poulson, wrote politically inspired ballads dealing with corruption and the troubled economics of the early 1800s. The best known writer in the short history of Faroese literature is Heðin Brú, whose books are very popular in the islands and have gained acceptance abroad as well. Jørgen-Frantz Jacobsen and William Heinesen are other well-known Faroese authors who wrote in Danish rather than their native language.

Faroese is a Germanic language derived from Old Norse, significantly influenced by Gaelic, and related closely to Icelandic and some Norwegian dialects. Thor was traditionally the main god in the Faroes. He was rowdy and slow moving as gods go, a champ of the common people, and he held the controls for thunder, wind, storms and natural disasters. He could also fend off malevolent outsiders. Two other important gods were the twins Freyr and Freyja, who served as god and goddess of fertility and sexuality. The islands today have officially shrugged off the Norse pantheon and belong to the Protestant Lutheran Church.

If you're interested in traditional Faroese food, you can forget about fresh greens for a while and get used to meat and potatoes. Mutton is the basis of every meal, and one of the most popular treats is skerpikjøt, well aged, wind-dried mutton that requires a sharp knife and strong jaws to be appreciated. The drying shed, known as a hjallur, is a standard feature in many Faroese homes. Other 'local delicacies' are rast kjót (semi-dried mutton) and rastan fisk, matured fish. After the bloody grindadráp, a speciality is grind og spik, whale and blubber, which you should probably avoid if the slaughter of pilot whales turns your stomach. Fresh fish also features strongly in the local diet, as do seabirds, such as puffins, and their eggs.

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